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Ocean and naval architectural engineering 101

By Jackey Locke

Memorial’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science believes in educating “prospective” engineering students at a young age and yes, even pre-schoolers. Last summer, Dr. David Murrin was a visiting assistant professor with the faculty’s ocean and naval architectural engineering program and he believes it’s never too early to start.

“We really wanted to get kids excited about science and engineering in general. That was the first step. In addition, ocean and naval architectural engineering is an extremely challenging, yet satisfying, discipline and we wanted to expose children to it so that they would consider it as a possible career option,” he said.

Dr. Murrin designed a two-day course for kids who were registered in their school’s Junior High Enrichment Program. The program taught them about ocean and naval architectural engineering, and consisted of tours of the faculty’s laboratories, virtual marine simulator, and interaction with a small remotely operated vehicle (ROV) built by Dr. Murrin himself.

“The course, which is essentially about the behaviour of objects in water, was designed to educate students who weren’t sufficiently challenged under their regular program and introduce them to a career path in ocean and naval architectural engineering,” said Dr. Murrin.

The first day students attended a laboratory where they were given some empty bottles and they observed how the bottles floated in water. Then they were given sand and water to put in the bottles, and they observed the behaviour again. After the demonstration, they went back into a classroom to look at why things happened the way they did.

On the second day, they were divided into two teams and each team designed a boat as part of a boat-building competition.

“The competition consisted of two components – a race to see which team had the fastest vessel, and a test to determine which boat could carry the most weight without capsizing,” said Dr. Murrin.

At the end of the second day, the students were also able to control a ROV in a small test tank and observe how it responded to changes in propulsive and buoyant forces. Finally, students toured the faculty’s laboratories which involved a ride in a towing carriage which took them from one end of the towing tank to the other as they observed a model dory being towed through water to learn about resistance (friction).

“The model has sensors that send information back to a main computer so that you can monitor the ship’s behaviour through various speeds,” said Dr. Murrin.

“We had talked to each group about propulsion, which is moving through the water and we talked about buoyancy, which is making things float, but until they really got to see it they didn’t really get it. So that was encouraging from the very first tour,” added Dr. Murrin.

And even though the course was designed for junior high students, it turns out that, with a little tweaking, it’s effective on a much younger audience as well.

“Part of the course was taught to younger kids between the ages of two and five at the Newfoundland Science Centre. We simply talked to them about why things float, and when we let them to control the little ROV they really started to understand,” he said.

The faculty hopes to expand on this course in the future.

“These tours were designed to gauge excitement and interest from the students. I’ve been overwhelmed. Kids, for various reasons, they really, really get into it. For one thing they can see it, and it moves. It responds right away. I think they like the fact that they can push a button, and the ROV controls are very similar to joysticks, which doesn’t hurt either,” quipped Dr. Murrin.